Social Justice Through Power Of Active Citizen
By Steven Lawrence D'Souza
14 February, 2012
Even as the world gears up to celebrate the World Day of Social Justice' on February 20th, I am reminded of the clarion call given in the famous words of one of the greatest scientists of our times, Albert Einstein. “THE world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing”. One of the basic principles of Democracy is the role of the active citizen in protecting the basic human rights, the fundamental rights incorporated and guaranteed to us in our Constitution, primarily the right to Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice. It is a common misconception that Justice is delivered only by the courts and that the individual citizen cannot obtain justice other than approaching the courts. What the court delvers is legal justice that is Justice as per the law. It cannot and ordinarily will not venture into the realm of natural and social justice unless the law permits it. No wonder Oliver Wendell Holmes once admonished a youth thus: " This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice!" US SC judge Felix Frankfurter, one of the top legal luminaries of our times summed it up succintly- “Active citizenry is an essential condition for democracy to succeed. Democracy involves hardship, of unceasing responsibility of the active citizen. Where the entire people do not take a continuous and considered part in public life, there can be no democracy in any meaningful sense of the term.. Democracy is always a beckoning goal, not a safe harbour. For freedom is an unremitting endeavour, never a final achievement. That is why no office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen”.
Recently the power of an active, enlightened and fearless active citizen was demonstrated in the campaign led by Shri Anna Hazare across the country. The establishment is helpless before a frail defiant tormented citizen, and the hordes of awakened active citizens defying the brute might of the state and fighting for their rights. Despite his somewhat eccentric statement and behavior he was able to shake up the establishment and galvanise the nation frustration with corruption and nepotism at the highest level. Much of the fire fighting by the Government in reopening the cases against the high and mighty was because of the might of the active citizen supporting him.. It is only later The courts then delivered the momentous decisions that we witnessed recently.
At this moment I was reminded of a famous Urdu couplet, quoted by Ex-PM Chandrasekhar at a political rally nearly two decades back, “Says a Bird: Don’t threaten me lightening you may strike my nest, my sultanate, and raze it a million times. But my real possession is my wings, so I will survive”. This couplet highlights the struggle of Arun Ferriera who was released after public outcry over his repeated detention despite being released by the court in number of previous cases. It is noteworthy that the clergy led by Father Cedric Prakash of Prashanth and Father Frazer Mascarenhas, Principal St. Xavier College came out openly in support of this ex alumni of our college St. Xavier’s the support of various community groups, NGO’s and laity organizations ensured that finally justice was rendered. The famous Russian rebel and author Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes the powerlessness of the state when faced with the mute resistance of the ordinary defiant active citizen, as follows “ You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power - he’s free again”. *
* The popular phrase of social justice ‘stand up, speak up’ is the motto of an anti-racism movement that started in Europe in 2005, which popularised inter-linking black and white wristbands. It was inspired by the theme of the popular novel “ To Kill A Mockingbird Later In 1962, It was released as a movie with the same name starring Greogory Peck as Atticus Finch, the lawyer who defends Tom Robinson. It is pertinent to note that forms of discrimination like racial injustice and caste based injustice and class based injustice exists even today. Despite Martin Luther King and President Obama as symbols of Black ascendancy , today there are more blacks in US prisons than in the times of Martin Luther King as a percentage of the American population. Lyvita Gomes (52), a Bombay based catholic woman from Bandra working for Delta Airways in America passed away at Vista Medical Center Eat after 15-days of hunger strike protesting against racial discrimination at the North suburban Chicago jail, and was laid to rest in the first week of February 2012. It was only after public outcry that inquiry into the incident has been ordered by US authorities . Mr. Rodney Fernandes, Lyvitas brother-in-law, in his eulogy said "The family and I are comforted by the extraordinary support we have received not only from the churches and people of Waukegan and Chicago but also from the media and hundreds of people around the world, some who have never met Lyvita but share our grief. We feel that the tragic circumstances of her death in today's world have raised the matter of social justice which we hope will have a profound impact for others who may encounter similar circumstances. Similar awakening of conscience and active role of the common man is required to prevent and reduce caste based atrocities, harassment of senior citizens, exploitation of women and children, ill-treatment of minorities, etc which continue to increase daily in our country as well as across the globe. Unless the active citizens decides to stand up, speak up, things will not change.
The year 2011 was the year of the common man across the globe fighting for social Justice. Dictatorship were overthrown, the capitalist structure was shaken up, and the common man has finally realized that unless he comes out on the street nothing will change. Social justice is not a matter of ideology of social activist, it is the common man’s cry for survival and justice and equality and freedom in these troubled times. This is the message of all people revolution across the globe in 2011, whether the Arab spring or the Occupy Wall Street movement or other protests.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Government keeps their promises only when they are forced, or when it is to their advantage to do so”. This then is the lesson the active citizen must realize if democracy and human rights are to flourish in this country. We must remember the lines in the most famous and landmark Supreme Court Judgement, Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, 1973, 4 SCC 225, wherein the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court reminded us that the words “we the people” occur only in the preamble of the constitution and nowhere else in our constitution, the largest constitution anywhere in the world and that unless the active citizen is vigilant and plays a major role in the affairs of the country, liberty and inherent human rights will remain only on paper. As the famous English poet Percy Shelley said “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” The world has endured the winter of social injustice. The Arab Spring is a sign that finally the world is moving towards more involvement of the common man and the active citizen in the quest for social justice. I am reminded of a famous quote of Swami Chinmayananda, “The country becomes nation only if people are alert, vigilant and play an active role for the well being of the whole country. Otherwise it is mere geographical location and burden on Mother Earth”. I now end with the famous words of Benjamin Cardozo, the great American judge, who said: “The inn, the shelters for the night is not the journey’s end. The law and the citizen, like the traveler must be ready for tomorrow.”
Steven Lawrence D'Souza is former IRS, Officer , presently a corporate management and tax consultant, ,visiting faculty business mgt., and course co-ordinator for IAS.UPSC, and other Competitive exams
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